Project Happiness and Native Cry Team Up To Tackle Depression and Suicide On Reservations


SONY DSCBy Lynn Armitage

Sadly, people all over the world suffer from depression. According to the World Health Organization, depression will be the second most debilitating disease after heart disease by the year 2020; and unless something is done about it, by 2030, it will be the No. 1 health issue throughout the world.

It’s especially troubling when our own children battle the blues. More than 10 years ago, after Randy Taran’s then-14-year-old daughter said to her one day, “I want to be happy, but I don’t know how,” Taran soon learned that depression, stress and bullying run rampant among teens everywhere. Determined to help her daughter and others like her find happiness, Taran launched a global movement that went in search of it called Project Happiness.

“My background was in film, so that’s where I started,” explains Taran, who assembled a group of 25 teenagers from three different parts of the world—Santa Cruz, California, Nigeria and India—to make a documentary that tackled the seemingly impossible question, “What is lasting happiness?”

The students’ quest for answers led them to iconic thought leaders, such as director George Lucas, actor and humanitarian Richard Gere, and neuroscientist Richard Davidson. Their journey culminated with a group visit to the XIV Dalai Lama in India, a spiritual leader who is supposed to have all the answers.

With that concept in mind, Project Happiness has grown from an award-winning documentary that has been translated into seven languages into a handbook and educational curriculum that combines positive psychology, mindfulness and neuropsychology, and is available, free of charge, to schools and other educational institutions all over the world. Currently, the Project Happiness curriculum is being taught in schools in more than 55 countries.

Naturally, it was only a matter of time before Rayna Madero and Taran crossed paths. Madero, a Quechan native who lives in Las Vegas, founded Native Cry Outreach Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to suicide prevention within the Native American community.

Suicide rates in Indian Country are jaw-dropping. Read more at Indian Country Media Network.

The Blend at Paris Junior College Promotes Project Happiness

At the recent PJC Homecoming Parade, The Blend promoted their
The Paris Junior College student club, The Blend, has worked all semester on Project Happiness. The campaign is designed to “activate happiness in your community” according to club sponsor and PJC Spanish Instructor Kelli Ebel.

As part of the campaign, club members placed signs around campus, hoping to inspire fellow students. The notes are mostly placed on benches where students will notice them between classes.

Another part of the project was The Blend’s PJC Homecoming Parade entry.

“The idea of the float was that we are all unique puzzle pieces and when you put the pieces together, they spelled ‘Humankind’,” said Ebel. “When one club member pointed out that Humankind does not have a history of being very kind, we created the pieces of the puzzle to give the message ‘Human (be) Kind’.”

Students created their own t-shirts by tie-dyeing them on a pretty day prior to the parade, and wore them on the float. They threw out multi-colored candy attached to small strips of paper with different words such as compassion, joy, hope, kindness and generosity. On the back of each strip was the message “Open Your Mind and Mix It Up!”


‘Project Happiness’ Sign

Ridgewood High School Encourages Students to Find Their Happiness

Brian and Emily from Project Happiness lead an assembly of 900 students at Norridge High School

Ridgewood High School wants to see students happy.

Not a day without homework happy. Not ‘we’ve got a sub today’ happy. Not free pizza in the cafeteria happy. But really happy, exuding real and lasting happiness regardless of exterior factors.

Ridgewood officials are so committed to the effort that they spent several hours Oct. 25 working with students to identify true happiness. The effort included students viewing the award-winning film “Project Happiness,” which follows a senior high class from California on a journey to discover the true nature of human happiness.

Ridgewood also brought leaders of the national Project Happiness group to the school for the Oct. 25 program, hoping to reach students and get a Project Happiness Club started.

“It’s so simple and it can be so powerful,” Emily Crubaugh, Project Happiness educational director, said of youth using positive psychology, conflict resolution and mindfulness. “In just 28 days, four weeks, you can be up to 25 percent happier.”

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Can You Teach Happiness?

A TEDx event and book inspire middle school teachers and students to test out in practice the author’s ideas for building a curriculum on happiness. By Victoria Obenchain, The Saklan School Science Specialist and Middle School Science Teacher. For more information on the program at Saklan, visit

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2012 newsletter of the California Association of Independent Schools. You can read the article in it’s original format on page 20 and 21 of the newsletter –

Last Spring, teachers at the Saklan School attended the TEDx conference on compassion in Richmond, California. Our goal was to gain an understanding of how we could help teach compassion to our middle school students. We spent the day listening to many inspirational speakers, songwriters, and curriculum designers. It was there that we spotted a book that resonated with both our school’s mission and the unique challenges of teaching middle school.

In a time when stress, anxiety, pressure, and fear of failure haunt so many middle school and high school students, Randy Taran’s Project Happiness Handbook offers tools for managing difficult situations and building life-long happiness. The book itself is fun, colorful, and interactive. It encourages readers to brainstorm, write, draw, and self-reflect while examining the differences between joy (short-term pleasure) and happiness (true contentment). It also explores how negative self-talk can become a habit that leads to self-deprecation and depression, while helping readers develop the self-awareness and skills necessary to lead positive, productive lives.

When we found the book, we couldn’t believe how lucky we were. Our dean contacted the author and explained how we were going to use it in our advisories. Randy was overjoyed to hear this as she was working on creating a curriculum for the exact same purpose. We decided to partner up, and test out her lesson plans in our eighth grade leadership class.

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Happiness. Most Precious Gem At Cartier’s Trunk Show

Next Tuesday, September 14th, Cartier in Palo Alto will host a special trunk show to support and raise awareness of our efforts to introduce positive social and emotional skills in local Bay Area schools.

Schools, businesses and households are being forced to do a lot more with a lot less and Project Happiness delivers proven techniques to do just that. A recent study found that social emotional learning, improved student grade performance by 11% more than double the improvement from reducing class size.

“We are grateful to Cartier for helping our community endure these difficult times,” Randy Taran, founder of Project Happiness said. “Everyone benefits when even a single teenager chooses family over drugs, education over crime, kindness over violence.”

Project Happiness was founded to give teenagers effective tools to create success and happiness in school and in life. Its curriculum is being used in Palo Alto’s Gunn High School, a community that was devastated by four student suicides, as well as Corte Madera in Portola Valley, and Menlo School in Atherton. Stanford University will begin to integrate it as part of its peer health educators program this fall.

“We’ve not seen the light at the end of the tunnel, but if we allow happiness to guide us, we won’t go wrong,” Randy added.

Cartier will donate 10% of all sales to Project Happiness a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.  View special select items -> Cartier Trunk Show Items. H’ordeuvres and champagne will be served. Space is limited. To RSVP please call Aida Smailagic (650) 325-6170.

September 14th, 2010 6:30-8:30 PM
155 Stanford Shopping Ctr
Palo Alto, CA 94304
Tel. (650) 325-6170
Fax (650) 325-6176

A Challenge Worthy of One’s Gifts


While I still have to remind myself to take a deep breath and calm down, I think I do pretty well when faced with challenges these days. The other day I managed a work phone call while assisting my 3-year-old on the potty and making sure my 1-year-old didn’t unroll the entire toilet paper roll (half, maybe…). So I think I’m doing pretty well.

But as an adolescent I did not respond well to challenge – I saw it as a test and, thus, as something I could fail. My parents were sensitive to this anxiety and realized early on that indirect requests worked much better than direct challenges. But then school started and, well, you can’t avoid challenge there.

My first catastrophic response to a challenge came in elementary school when we were challenged to use our bodies. My body was not then, nor is it now, up to any kind of challenge involving coordination. I once crashed my bike into our neighbors’ yard because I couldn’t figure out how to pedal backwards (luckily, the neighbor was a doctor, and I got some free medical help). The big game they loved to have us play in elementary school was kickball. I was always among the last 2 or 3 children picked for a team, which didn’t do much for my self-confidence going in.

One day, after I caused our team a few outs, the teachers couldn’t find me when it was time to go back in to class. My response to the challenge had been simply to walk home. I remember my thinking: “Hey, my mom is just a few blocks from here. This game stinks. Why don’t I just go home?” My mother had been putting my sister down for her nap and she heard the front door shut. When she came downstairs she found me relaxing on the couch watching Mr. Rogers. Of course Mom brought me right back to school. And the next week a fence appeared around our playground – no more escape from kickball!

Although I was a pretty smart kid, I didn’t respond well when challenged to use my mind either. Once, after what I perceived to be an embarrassing performance in math class, I tried again to leave the school. Unfortunately, this was after the advent of fences around school yards and I was inside the school and this was my middle school, located about 10 miles from home – all factors working against me getting home for a nice, relaxing afternoon with Mr. Rogers, his comfy sweater and his friend, Henrietta Pussycat. But I did try to escape, resulting in the principal having to physically restrain me and an (I still claim inadvertent) kick in the principal’s shin (a few days’ suspension for that one).

Thanks to my parents, my teachers and patient administrators (like the one with the bruised shin), I made it through secondary school and into college. I learned how to manage my emotions and deal with academic and (minor) physical challenges. But it wasn’t until college that my school institution challenged me to use my gifts for personal connection. The Tucker Foundation (the college’s volunteer organization) challenged me to direct and further develop the Adopt-A-Grandparent program, pairing college students with elderly men and women who needed help and community. Phi Tau, my co-ed fraternity, challenged me to work with my peers to create a fair and comfortable community. And my supervisor at the Beth Israel Hospital in Boston challenged me not only to interpret for the hospital’s Russian patients, but to make them feel part of our community.

What I responded to as a young person, and continue to respond to now, is a challenge to create community. And this is what we are challenging you and your classes to do: to use your individual gifts and talents to create community, however you define it: you classroom, your school, your neighborhood, your city, your country, or your world. We have created a 7-step project (to go with the 7 chapters of the Handbook) that culminates in the germination of a plan, a plan for your students to bring more happiness to their community using their gifts. This challenge to community can be found in chapter 8 of the Facilitators’ Guide (let me know if you still haven’t received one – I’ll send you one via e-mail ASAP), but I’ve reprinted (sadly devoid of the lovely orange background — too technologically complex for me!) below:


I. Ask students to interview a community member using the “Exploring in My Community” activity on p. 14. Share your results as a class and try to find commonalities. What have you learned about your community that you didn’t know before?

II. After reflecting on “My Defining Moments…” on p. 35, find people in your community who have suffered and struggled and ask them to share their defining moments with the class.

III. Have students reflect on “Ideas about My Gift” on p. 67. Then have everyone share their greatest gifts with the class (it can be anonymous) and compile a list. Ask students to show the list to 3 community members and interview them about how they feel these gifts might relieve suffering in the community.

IV. After learning about active listening (pp. 102-3), explore resources for those suffering in the community (counseling, state resources, etc.). Do those resources provide true listening? How do they work to relieve suffering? Is there anything missing?

V. After writing or talking about “Reflecting on Compassion” on p. 113 and summarizing what you have found out about the community, begin to brainstorm about how compassion in action could be applied in your community.

VI. After reading about “Interdependence…With Others!” on p. 145, guide your students in tracking the ways people suffering in your community are interdependent, looking at family, business, government, schools, media, crime, etc.

VII. After reading about the young social entrepreneurs on pp. 167-168, use all the information you have gathered to create your own social entrepreneurship, either as a class or individually.

And there will be an incentive (beyond the rewards of community building). The class that comes up with the most amazing social entrepreneurship (as judged by our expert staff at Project Happiness headquarters) will receive a prize to be announced in next week’s blog. So, stay tuned

And I still think Mr. Rogers’ words are some of the best advice to someone panicked by challenge: “I like you just the way you are.” We all have gifts and struggles and we are all truly good, just the way we are.

From Flower come Flowers: Field Report from Kathmandu

Hello, I am Kaurav (Khil) Bogati from Kathmandu Nepal. Nepal was thought of as a beautiful and peace country in the years before our favorite king was murdered. Late King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev is regarded as the best king in our history. He was the source of authentic happiness in the minds of Nepalese people. After his untimely death our Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal which is now called Republic of Nepal is suffering from strikes, blockades, demonstrations, electric power shortages and lack of drinking water. In this crazy situation I found PROJECT HAPPINESS and Rolando Sandor.

Through the Project Happiness organization I am going to bring happiness to the students of Nepal so that it may spread all over the WORLD. I am the luckiest person in the world to work with this project. I also hope that soon we will all unite and bring real happiness which has eluded us in the past. Children are the golden star of our future. With good modern education and technology they can change themselves for good. It begins with personal change and then they can change their family society, nation and the whole world.

I work with the students at Tarun Secondary School. Because of limited resources and severe disruptions to the educational schedule, I’ve only done a few activities with the students from the Project Happiness curriculum. All students in this school come from humble families but are always looking for that golden opportunity to make their life better. I will not let more obstacles limit teaching positive education and to love other human beings. I believe we change the perspective of people for good, then automatically good creates greater good.

I along with my students, I wish to thank everyone at PROJECT HAPPINESS and everyone who is part of this great movement for lasting world-wide change.

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First Private Showing was a Success

We held a “benefit dinner and auction” and a private showing of Project Happiness, the film, on November 15th at the Letterman Theater in the Presidio of San Francisco.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel (newspaper) wrote up their take on this premiere.

We’ll point you at photos from the event in a few days.